Monday, 17 June 2013

To Review or not To Review?

A piece of advice given to a writer fretting over a bad review was ‘Don’t read them, count them.’ After all, the more you have, the more people (at least in theory) are buying your books.
As a writer, what should be your role, if any, as a reviewer? There has been a lot of controversy about some writers rubbishing rivals’ work and praising their own under an assumed name. A practice almost, but not quite, universally condemned.
And what if a writer friend asks you to review their latest work? Do you mumble something about planning to do it later and then conveniently forget about it? Or do you treat everyone equally and give 5 stars on Amazon when all you’ve read is the blurb? Surely not!
I enjoy writing reviews: it forces you to look at a piece of work more closely, to examine it critically and find out what works and what doesn’t. All of this helps with your own writing, makes you more aware of what you should do to improve and helps develop the ability to write concisely.
There are certain things I try to bear in mind before embarking on a review. They are not exclusive, but if you are new to reviewing, or would like to try reviewing a favourite book, they may help you decide if the role of reviewer is one you want to add to your skills. After all, as writers we will also be looking for reviews, hopefully very positive ones.
1. Consider the book within its genre. How does it work in this context? If it’s a romance, don’t review it as if it was a crime novel.
2. Tell the readers what the book is about, but keep it short. Two or three sentences are usually enough…and make sure there are no spoilers. A review is not a synopsis.
3. Consider how the author develops the characters and the plot. Refer to specifics and illustrate with a couple of quotes.
4. Say what you liked, or didn’t like, about the book but remember you are criticising the book, not the writer.
5. Try to come up with a compelling opening sentence. Reviewing is like any other kind of writing - if the readers’ attention is caught immediately they will read on.
6. Try to find positives. Fortunately not every reader likes the same kind of book, else there would be very few writers.
If I really don’t like a book, I ditch the review (and sometimes the book!) rather than being tempted to give it a very low rating. Unless you are an experienced reviewer all you'll do is upset the writer and your comments won't necessarily be of help to a reader. 
If you are in doubt, look at the reviews for some of the ‘big names’ and you will see that among the 5 stars there’s often a sprinkling of 1 and 2 star reviews. The positive reviews show there is nothing wrong with the book - it's just not to my taste.
If you haven’t reviewed before, do give it a try.


  1. Very good points, Myra, and I agree with what you say. I never take on reviews, but if I read a book and like it, I will put up a review without being asked.

  2. It's a difficult area, isn't it? People say writers shouldn't review other writers' work, but have you tried getting reviews out of non-writing friends? Nearly, if not quite impossible. Anne

  3. A thought provoking post, Myra. Reviews are important, but as an author, I make a point never to offer to do reviews for other writers so I'm rarely asked to write them. I do though, after I've enjoyed reading a good book, want to write a review for Amazon and Goodreads to convey my enthusiasm as a reader to other readers. If I loved a book and its characters then it's only natural that I'd want to share and recommend.

    Janice xx

  4. Good advice, Myra. I've been doing rather a lot of reviewing recently and I suspect it's beginning to interfere with my actual reading pleasure. If it were just me choosing to buy and read a particular book and, if I liked it or found it particularly interesting, posting a review on Amazon, that would be fine but writing for online review sites means the reviews need to be longer, like mini-essays and the process of taking notes as I read can get in the way. I think I'd prefer just to be a reader.

  5. I am still digesting this post, Myra and I shall make a note of the points you mention. I rarely write a review, and never by request, and I rarely read them so maybe I'm a bit strange. I know if I had a bad review it is the one I would remember and confidence is a fragile thing better left unshattered. This makes me sound a bit mean but note, I did say rarely and not never and sometimes I've been moved to write one. I find it easier to mention a book in places like Facebook and simply say I have enjoyed it and hope other readers will take note. Lazy - well maybe.

  6. You make interesting points here, Myra. I only write the occasional review, but after reading your post, I could be tempted to write more.

  7. I'm not a 'natural' reviewer Myra, although I have written a small number in my time. They would have been far better if I'd had your advice beforehand. V. useful and informative. I do wonder, though, about people who have time to do masses of reviews - when do they manage to read (or write, if they're writers)?

  8. Thank you for all the interesting comments. I think reviewing is a skill that can be learned but you do need to work at it.
    I appreciate what you say,Bill. If you become too involved in reviews you can end up with little time to do anything else.

  9. The actress Celia Imrie had a very bad review early in her career and decided she would never read a review again - and she has kept to this decision. A very brave one, as most of us have a certain inbuilt curiosity.

  10. Anne's point about getting reviews from friends who are not writers is a good one.
    Perhaps in the end reviews aren't all that important - writers will write no matter what!

  11. Thought-provoking post,Myra. I review for Amazon Vine, and the shenanigans that go on beihind the scenes are something else. Tactical voting, multiple voting, 'bent' name it, and it's out there. But I do enjoy it, although I'vehad my share of nastiness, not least when a critical review I wrote (a popular one, but it was honest), was removed, and then my own novels' (positive) reviews 'disagreed' with.

    Another benefit is that it reminds me of what I've read, and what I thought of them all; otherwise I think I'd probably forget!

  12. Very interesting, Frances. The whole business of reviewing on Amazon is a minefield. My main worry is that people assume there's nothing to writing a review, in the same way some think anyone can be a teacher because everyone has been to school!

  13. Really interesting post, Myra. I personally think the 'word of mouth' review is at times more powerful than the online review, especially if it's positive.
    I agree that if someone reads a book that isn't to their taste they should probably just not bother doing the review (particularly if it's obvious the writer can actually write and they've just happened upon the wrong genre) It can be damaging for new writers to receive petty online reviews (I think, mainly to their confidence, rather than sales), but helpful if they receive balanced, honest views.